Developing Perseverance - The Mental Tenacity to Overcome and Succeed

06/02/2017 01:50 pm ET
“If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, take a friend.”

I have lately been thinking about factors in the most successful of people’s lives that allow them to develop the mental tenacity and perseverance to succeed.

This article highlights thoughts on this subject from my new book on self development. I will warn it is not a short one, as this is a topic just too important to gloss over. 

Failure and adversity are inherent parts of life. We will often strive for success and encounter the dark abyss of despair that is falling short of our goals. All people have failed at one point or another; people are failing as I write these words. What matters, ultimately, is your attitude toward success. You can either be self-defeating and fatalistic, or you can be optimistic and resilient.

Perseverance is one’s ability to recover from failure, the ability to get up, brush-off, and find a new path toward productivity and accomplishment, despite the unintended failure. Personal perseverance is immunity from embarrassment, from humiliation, from disappointment. It contributes to good and fast decision-making. 

It has been shown that successful people possess 5 factors that make up their perseverance. These 5 factors are their armor, both mental and emotional. They enable them to take difficult and seemingly intractable situations, and turn them into opportunities for growth.

The 5 Factors of Personal Perseverance

Off the bat, I’ll just list them all. Before you dive into my description of them, I invite you to consider what they may mean to you.

1.  Positive Attitude

2.  Conclusive Choice

3.  Ethical Compass

4.  Uncompromising Resolve

5.  Social Backing

Positive Attitude: A positive attitude is not fanciful; rather it is a driving force. It is the desire to move forward, to persevere when others are retreating in the face of change and hardship. This mandate is a self-fulfilling prophecy that foreshadows success when paired with conclusive choice.

Conclusive Choice: Success does not come from passivity—in most cases. You must choose a course and stick to it, despite any apparent unlikelihood. Decisive action requires mettle. It requires the mettle to make difficult decisions when the convenience of an easier choice entices us from beyond. Better still are choices that are guided by an ethical compass.

Ethical Compass: Whatever the values that you conceive as imperative, use them as guiding stars when making decisions because they fill you with the conviction of moral certainty and belief. Once you have made a decision and began to carry it out, you must stick to it, and this requires uncompromising resolve. 

Uncompromising Resolve: Determination and persistence can be likened to omnipotence for mortals. Persist until you recognize that the best option is to quit, because sometimes it will be. The point here is to recognize when stopping is rational or reasonable rather than convenient or easy. Sometimes a little bit of help from others is necessary to identify that moment. That’s when social backing is crucial. 

Social Backing: Who can you count on to have your back?

The Power of Positive Attitude - Optimism

Attitude is more than a sunny outlook on life. It is the true belief that good things will come in spite of bad things. There are two types of optimism: passive and active.

The passive optimist assumes the world operates on the brighter side and expects positive effects will follow negative circumstances, no matter what. They believe in the benevolence of people and of themselves.

The active optimist is more resilient in that she is emboldened against negative circumstances. It helps her make decisions confidently with the assumption that she will prevail and triumph, irrespective of apparent difficulty. This can be aptly described as the expectation of personal success. 

Even better still, the active optimist inadvertently sets the stage for a potent self-fulfilling prophecy. The expectation of personal success, bolstered and vindicated by moments of success, can affect real world outcomes.

Mental attitude toward an action correlates closely with the consequence of that outcome. Some call it manifestation, others call it destiny, and I prefer the less metaphysical term, self-fulfilling prophecy.

The potency of the self-fulfilling prophecy lies in certain features of the active optimist’s mental attitude. The active optimist is less likely to accept failure, is less likely to desist from a chosen course of action, is less likely to flounder in determination, and is less likely to accept rejection or failure. 

Optimism is Not Just Mental

The active optimist’s mental attitude toward adversity and failure is the key to success. However, it alone cannot guarantee success. There are 4 ways to harness optimism and use it to secure real world results. 

The first way is Incremental Planning. Break down large tasks into smaller and more manageable steps. When the task is too large and it cannot be broken down into manageable steps, ask for assistance. 

The second way is Vicarious Optimism-building. Observe others succeeding and analyze their trajectory. The goal here is to recognize that there are no fundamental differences between you and successful people. You can acquire whatever they do or have that helps them succeed.

The third way is Collective Optimism. Interpersonal support and connectedness have been shown as two central determinants of success. In the military, unit cohesion is pivotal to success. 

The fourth way is Self-Control. Oh yes, the dreaded cousin of willpower. The ability to control your actions, thoughts, and bodily reactions conveys self-confidence and cultivates active optimism. When you are not a victim of your whims and temptations, you are more likely to assume that you can conjure the oneness of mind to succeed. 

All of this amounts to nothing if it doesn’t materialize into action. Decisive action requires not only optimism. It requires determination, Perseverance, and often collaboration with others. 

Decisive Action Doesn’t Mean Being Right, Just Sure.

Decision-making is not easy. To select from one of the myriad options before us at any given moment is challenging. Often, the information available to us is insufficient to confer certainty in any one particular outcome, so we largely operate in the dark. This is where being decisive comes into play.

Decisiveness doesn’t necessarily come from being right, just sure. When you are sure about a particular outcome, you act confidently. That alone can significantly increase your chances of success.

Decisive action is also about timeliness. Opportunities arise and disappear every second. Some are grander than others. Some go to the lucky. Often they are snatched up by the quicker. To recognize an opportunity is the first step; to act quickly is the second.

Turning a Negative Into a Positive

Interestingly, decisive action has been shown to reduce stress and empower people to rebound from adversity. Steve Jobs is an exemplary of this feature of active optimism. He resisted avoidance and paralysis when others may have succumbed. Take as an illustrative example his removal from Apple.

For some, that would have been an irrecoverable blow. Yet, Steve Jobs described it as a opportunity: “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything,” he said. “It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Jobs went on to say he was “pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.” 

Steve Jobs did not exhibit some extra-human quality here. He was actively optimistic, made a decision, and was resilient against his turn of fortune. He rebounded and turned that failure into an opportunity for growth. This catalyzed a turning point for Apple and took a tremendous amount of personal responsibility. 

Personal Responsibility

Quite simply, if you do not take ownership of your actions, you will feel detached from them and never be fully invested. Perseverance, active optimism, decisiveness, all require the sense that your actions emanate from you and no one else. It is natural to displace responsibility, especially when things get tough. In these cases, we should stave off our natural inclinations and opt for self-reflection. 

Failure and adversity are fertile conditions for self-reflection. This is impossible if you do not feel personally responsible for your actions. You won’t be prompted to self-reflect and grow. It takes great courage, but it should be done. 

It’s Not All About You

Success is contingent upon your personal attributes, but it is also contingent upon others. Without the trust of others, you are less likely to build the interpersonal support vital to success. Trust is engendered by honesty, integrity, fidelity, and ethical behavior. These are the four parts that make up one’s moral compass.

The moral compass tends to remove risk from business and personal relationships and confer predictability, which grants safety and fosters trustworthiness. If the situation is right, the trust and support of others can be crucial to success because life will present you with opportunities that you will not be able to tackle alone. This is especially true because so many outcomes and opportunities are dependent on the decisions of other people, who, most of the time, have no stake in our achievements. 

The amazing thing about having a clear moral compass is that it aids decision-making and concurrently gains you greater degrees of responsibility and confidence from the people around you. These two factors perpetuate further success. Success begets success.

Stay the Course

Thus far we have talked about the centrality of active optimism, decision-making, and morality to success. We have used a few terms that I think warrant further discussion. Terms like “tenacity,” “persevere,” and “perseverance.” 

I take these terms to stem from the notion that steady persistence in a purposeful course of action, especially in spite of difficulties, adversity, or discouragement is vital. The steadiness of your persistence is largely dependent on your motivations for the chosen course of action. I find that actions motivated by and in alignment with your moral compass generate the most confidence.

When I speak of persistence, therefore, I see it as not only a state of mind but a mental, emotional, and moral attitude in the face of a challenge. This is key because we sometimes need to remind ourselves of our motivations. The closer they align with our values, the easier it will be to draw courage from them.

Abandon Ship!

Steady persistence and relentless tenacity can look much like defiance. It is the conviction to say, “I will not give in,” when opposed by people or circumstances. There is a caveat, however. Persistence and tenacity can verge on rashness and stubbornness. We must sometimes desist from our chosen course, despite sunken costs or effort. 

When should we choose to do this? When a goal becomes more of a liability than an asset and when resources dedicated to one goal are better allocated to another. The inability to recognize that success can take the form of holding back or stopping could result in self-defeat. It takes great courage to do this, too.

We Are All in this Together

Interpersonal support is considered the single most predictive factor of success. Simply put, there is strength in numbers. Interpersonal support is born out of shared identity with group members, shared values, and prior experiences of aid in times of distress.

When you initiate an action, interpersonal support to help guarantee an end result. When you are making a comeback, interpersonal support becomes even more instrumental. It can help you avoid a descent into the abyss of psychological or physical self-defeat. 

To create the kinds of bonds that make for a good interpersonal support system, a few things should be kept in mind.

Direct Reciprocity: This is quid pro quo, pure and simple. I give you this; you give me that. 

Spatial Selection: The likelihood of support increases with proximity. If you are physically acquainted with the person who you want support from, they are far more likely to help. 

Genetic Selection: Blood is thicker than water. If we are related, I will probably help you.

Indirect Reciprocity: This is where unintended gains come into play. Indirect reciprocity refers to self-interest and the potential benefits one person can receive from helping another.

Group Selection: Some social and cultural norms will prompt me to help you, even if I don’t know you. Reference to a greater good or a moral obligation, for example.

It can be helpful to mind these types of social bonds; however, it can overcomplicate a very simple and intuitive fact.

When you are with people who share your values and goals, treat them with respect, show appreciation, listen to them, don’t attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity, and, last but not least, think before you speak, great things can happen.

Do Not Walk this Road Alone

Sharing our success is sometimes difficult, but all of these values, attitudes, and motivations are much easier to foster when you collaborate with others. Other people are sources of inspiration. They bear us up when we slacken. They can keep us on track.

All of that notwithstanding, the locus of success is still you. You are in control of your attitude, of your decisive action, of your moral compass, of your relentless tenacity, and of the value of your interpersonal relationships.

There’s a proverb that I like to keep in mind when thinking about success.

“If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, take a friend.”
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